During this Monday morning’s Lake Merritt* run, I had a moment to contemplate the weight of Donald Trump’s recent hilariously tragic statement--that Oakland is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. To be fair to Mr. Trump, the question posed was that he select the most dangerous place(s) from among the geographical locales to which has actually been; so maybe his comment is more telling about the extent of his travel than about his perception or knowledge of danger in the world.
My initial response to the Oakland comment was to ridicule the privileged bumbler, ‘Yea, dangerous for you, Mr. Trump, if by ‘dangerous’ you mean people on the sidewalk would point and snicker at you from behind their hands. . . .’ It is also tempting to point out the obvious lack of terrorist attacks and full-on warfare in Oakland, California, or the plethora of hip restaurants, cool clubs, and the amazing weather to be found. . . . But then I remembered what my much-beloved uncle, Ben Hubbard, a religious studies professor and author, is trying to say in his new book, A Battlefield of Values: America’s Left, Right, and Endangered Center, and my pledge to myself after reading it, to work towards engaging in more civil (respectful) discourse when I disagree with someone who holds different values from my own (like my mother). . . .
So, Mr. Trump, why? Why did you experience Oakland as dangerous? Is it just the high homicide rate? Because, sure, that’s a fact. And, undoubtedly, the high incidence of killings, primarily shootings, reflects the higher than usual percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged Americans able to afford to live here. But though there is a cost for diversity, there is an even bigger payoff, and the diversity of Oakland is exactly what makes it such an amazing place to live or visit.
I thought about this as I rounded the northeast tip of the lake and saw a middle-aged white woman perusing the few, expensive wares of a likely-homeless, disheveled, half-sleeping, also middle-aged black man. There seemed to be a few expensive, perhaps designer, handbags and shoes laid out on his blanket. And I thought, ‘Well, these items are obviously stolen.’ Yea, that was my initial thought. Sit with that. Because, I too, am racist, like every other person white or black or brown in our country. Like you.
And my first thought might still be correct, the items might be stolen. But I enjoy calling myself on my automatic, socially-programmed prejudices and assumptions, and, so, my follow-up thoughts were, ‘Should I talk to this seemingly homeless thief? Should I be a good citizen and call the cops?’ Hell, no. Because that man might have found those shoes and handbags and simply been a savvy business man. Or who knows how he came to be lying next to a blanket of high-priced goods. Maybe they weren't his. I certainly don’t know the whole story. Making assumptions rarely works out well. The cops might have been able to figure it out but probably not, or they might have created a scene. Certainly, it would have disturbed all the happy Oaklandites getting their morning exercise--myself included.
And, honestly, I didn’t even really know that I cared if those items were stolen. Yea, that’s right too. I guess that makes me a ‘bleeding heart liberal’. . . or lazy. But I want social justice. . . and change in America. I want that man to have money to live on. If he’s disabled or mentally ill or drug-addicted or simply doesn’t have the white leg-up that I have, I want our country to figure out how to take better care of him and all suffering like him. If this is how he has to get his money in our current system, then I think the system needs to take a look at itself.
And, I thought about who it might have been stolen from, if stolen it was; someone privileged, someone able to buy shoes that cost a few, or several, hundred dollars. Someone like you, Mr. Trump.
So I kept walking. Past the multi-colored women pushing multi-colored babies, past the multi-colored, multi-aged people getting their Monday morning exercise on a gorgeous day in sunny California and, when I got home, I wrote this post.
Mr. Trump, you are not going to get elected on the wings of white supremacists hoping to ‘take back the country’. Take it back to what? The 1960s, when MLK got shot? The 1920s, when women couldn’t vote, or the 1970s when we couldn’t make our own reproductive choices? The 1940s when we put people we didn't trust, based on their ethnicity, into internment camps? This country is still a melting pot, and you must win us ALL over to become president. We ALL want to to see things get better. We all want our children to be safe and educated and free to pursue happiness. So talk to us about where we live and what we are hoping for in the future--about how we imagine getting there.
[And, yes, I know our nation's issues are hard to talk about without putting your foot in your mouth. See above, I make mistakes with my language all the time; like you, Mr. Trump, I don’t even know the currently correct term to use for black Americans. In fact, it might seem that black Americans don’t know how to refer to themselves, if the reaction to Larry Wilmore’s use of the ‘n’ word at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner is any evidence, but I digress.]
We as a country need to be talking to each other--across divides, not just to those with whom we agree--in our ever shrinking rings of agreed upon values. So what if we step on each others’ toes a bit? Then back up, apologize, listen and try to communicate again, more respectfully. It’s okay to make some mistakes as we go, that’s how we learn. Let’s give each other some room to err as we work to find some common ground.
Come visit Oakland, Mr. Trump. Talk to us about the homicide numbers and our values and aspirations. And if you’re too scared to visit us, think about what that means. The president of the United States needs to be someone who can represent all of our vast, mighty, diverse nation.
*Lake Merritt is one of Oakland, CA’s many gems.
Another influence on my thinking this morning, that I’m still digesting as I publish this post, is the finale to Louis CK’s Horace and Pete--simply a smart, insightful, work of art and the most accurate depiction of our present socio-political climate that I have been exposed to recently. Mr. CK does not hold back. The series is brave and non-defensive in cataloguing American (possibly, just, human) suffering. Click here to watch it; you’ve got to buy it online because he couldn’t find a distributor; worth every penny and then some.
Also, heads up, Bay Area, Mr. CK is coming to us and his tickets are affordable.